Traffic concerns could delay transfer of defense workers to Alexandria

By Miranda S. Spivack
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, May 11, 2010

U.S. Rep. James P. Moran is asking Congress to halt the transfer of thousands of defense workers to a new office building in Alexandria until the Pentagon ensures that the new commuting patterns won't make already bad traffic worse.

The relocation of 6,400 workers to the Mark Center off Seminary Road near Interstate 395, where public transit is limited, is part of the 2005 federal base realignment and closings plan.

Moran (D-Va.) said Monday that he is asking the House Armed Services Committee to limit the transfers at the Mark Center to 1,000 cars. That would force the Pentagon to delay most moves or quickly create a plan for carpools, buses and telecommuting.

Pentagon officials have said they plan to have 40 percent of center employees get to work without cars, but Moran's plans go further.

"I am not trying to stop the move -- I am trying to stop the congestion," Moran said.

One solution, construction of an exit ramp off I-395 leading directly into the Mark Center, is stalled because of environmental concerns.

The Mark Center is slated to become the new headquarters for the military's Washington operations.

Across the Washington region, more than 19,000 defense workers are required to move to new offices in Northern Virginia along Interstate 95 by fall 2011. About 13,000 are in Crystal City, two subway stops from the Pentagon, but they are to move to areas largely dependent on cars.

The job shifts stem from post-Sept. 11 worries of federal officials that the cluster of defense operations near the Pentagon and Reagan National Airport are at risk of attack. The changes will create at least two choke points along the I-95 corridor, near Fort Belvoir in Fairfax County and near Seminary Road in Alexandria.

Moran and Maryland lawmakers won approval late last year for $300 million to help solve some of the traffic problems the job shifts will create. The money will help fund changes near Fort Belvoir and in Bethesda near the National Naval Medical Center, which is absorbing newcomers from Walter Reed Army Medical Center in the District.

Moran said more money is needed to pay for road work around the Mark Center, and more time is needed to fully resolve traffic concerns around Fort Belvoir.

"Even with the $300 million, there will still be chaos during the construction around Fort Belvoir," said Moran, adding that it could take five years before traffic moves smoothly there.

"We are aware of and share Congressman Moran's concerns regarding traffic issues facing Northern Virginia," said Cmdr. Wendy L. Snyder, a Pentagon spokeswoman.

"We are committed to addressing these challenges, and we're taking steps to mitigate traffic impacts at the Mark Center," she said, citing plans for shuttle buses and changes in turn lanes to ease traffic flow. The Pentagon is also working on a transportation plan for its workers and has agreed to help pay to study ways to get cars on and off I-395, she said.

© 2010 The Washington Post Company